It’s not every day that The Henson Foundation takes an interest in your work – but then again, it’s not every day that man takes flight either.
The first time man conquered the air was when Alberto Santos-Dumont flew the first controlled airship. Despite the fact that – at the time – Santos-Dumont was one of the most famous men in the world, his legacy – and his story – has been overshadowed by that of the Wright Brothers.
This is where Tony Chiroldes comes in. For years now, Chiroldes has been perfecting the art of telling this particular story as meticulously as the man himself worked to perfect the art of flying. Chiroldes’ play, Before Icarus Fell, has made a long journey, but this week it alights briefly at the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row.
Tony took a moment during this busy week to tell me about his journey . . .
First of all, Tony, congratulations! You’re able to work on this full-length version of your puppetry piece through a grant from the Henson Foundation. How did that come about?
TC: I’ve always been a puppetry enthusiast. Upon moving to NY in 1993, I noticed tons of puppetry-related activities; foremost which was the bi-annual Henson Foundation-hosted international puppet festival.
Years later, I attended the 2002 Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center’s Puppetry Conference, where I started developing BEFORE ICARUS FELL.
Fast forward to 2008, when I was inspired by my fellow actors in the musical IN THE HEIGHTS to go beyond and put up a larger version of the piece. In doing so, I figured I could use some support, and the Henson Foundation provides grants to develop and/or produce puppetry performances. So, I took the chance.
Before Icarus Fell tells the story of Alberto Santos-Dumont and how – long before the Wright Brothers – he showed Man how to fly. How did this story first spark your interest as something that needed to be told as a theatre piece?
I found a book at the Strand — or as I choose to say, the book found me! — titled MAN FLIES, and it told this amazing story: a Brazilian man who experimented with balloons, dirigibles and an aeroplane in Paris and who, for a brief moment, held the mantle as the first man to fly. That was in 1906.
Years later he lost the title when the Wright Brothers — who had conquered the air three years earlier — visited Paris and demonstrated that they had an improved machine, capable of sustained aerial maneuvers.
The story sparked my interest because, upon looking at Santos-Dumont’s picture, I said “Wow, I could play that guy!” So this became my ‘pet project’, the one I returned to whenever things in the ‘business’ of ‘show’ became unbearable.
Before Icarus Fell has gone through many iterations since the initial version in 2002. What is something that’s remained present since the very first version – and what is something that has changed drastically?
The one thing that’s remained is Alberto’s flight in a dirigible around the Eiffel Tower — part of a competition in 1901. The image of the tower in shadow puppetry — created with a miniature, three-dimensional piece — and a mini-dirigible which I hold in front of the shadow screen has always been a part of the piece. Music, the Tower and the dirigible: That’s all you need to tell that part of the story.
Something that’s changed is the addition of more performers and the element of video images, some of which we taped in Paris back in 2001; when we didn’t even know what the piece was going to be like in its entirety. You can tell I’ve been mulling this over for years.
Why do you think, personally, that man has such a fascination with flying?
How many people speak of dreaming that they flew? It’s a combination of the mystical with a physical, total freedom. To “slip the surly bonds of earth”, as the poem HIGH FLIGHT says.
It’s true! I love waking up after a night when I had a dream that I was flying . . .
I know you must love the whole play – but what’s you’re favorite thing about Before Icarus Fell?
The peace that I find, surrounded by an incredibly-talented group of puppeteers, actors and video operators: all intent on telling a good story, and promoting the presence of Latin American pioneers in the field of aviation.
Nothing makes for better theatre! Thanks so much, Tony for stopping in the middle of your show to give us a look behind the scenes. I do hope people come out and catch Before Icarus Fell . . . Before It Goes Away!
BEFORE ICARUS FELL
Conceived and Directed by: Tony ChiroldesTickets Available: Call Telecharge at 212-239-6200 800-432-7250 In person: Theatre Row Box Office 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th & 10th Aves.) 12pm until curtain, daily